Inspired by the recent success of ballot initiatives amending state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage in 11 states, 70 pastors have pledged to renew their efforts to ensure that such marriages never become legal in Maryland.
Describing themselves as the largest interdenominational group of clergy assembled to fight gay marriage, the pastors hope to assemble 100,000 protesters in a "Defend Maryland Marriage Rally" at the statehouse in Annapolis on January 27. Their goal is to pressure legislators to stiffen laws against same-sex marriage, even though the Maryland general assembly rejected two such bills by wide margins last session. One bill would have prevented the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from outside Maryland. The other proposal was a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"We are in an all-out war. Annapolis needs to know we are serious. We're gonna do this for the glory of God," said the Reverend Clifford Johnson, senior pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the suburban Baltimore community of Rosedale.
Maryland is one of a handful of states to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it also was the first state to define by marriage by law as a union between a man and a woman. That law dates to 1973.
But those seeking to extend marriage rights to gays say that the pastors represent a small minority in a relatively tolerant and progressive state. "I respect their right to disagree with us and their right to exercise their political opinion," said David Rocah, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. "But I think Maryland is a very tolerant state, and I think Marylanders understand that denying their neighbors the ability to obtain the legal protections for their committed relationships is unfair."
In July, nine gay couples sued the state after court clerks in Baltimore and several counties refused to issue marriage licenses to them. The lawsuit alleges that Maryland's ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional. The ACLU and Equality of Maryland collaborated on the suit. A hearing is scheduled in Baltimore circuit court on March 14. The ministers also plan a march on March 10 to draw attention to the hearing.